‘Making Peace with Nature’ is the title of a new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Discover how it lays out a blueprint for solving our climate, biodiversity and pollution challenges.
The year that I landed my first real job, my family bought me an unusual Christmas present. It was a set of blueprints and all of the building materials I would need to build my own wooden sailboat.
It was a sailboat class called a Topper, an 11-foot dinghy with a single sail. We worked together as a family to build it, which was challenging because its sleek design required more intricate and elaborate fitting of the plywood and lumber than expected.
I painted it blue, which has always been my favourite colour, with white trim. I sent away to California for a proper sail and the required rigging.
Underlying Attitude that Leads to Success
Then came the more significant challenge; learning to sail. Sailing takes many skills, but they all stem from an underlying attitude that leads to success.
You have to learn to work with the wind and water rather than thinking that you can cheat or outsmart them. That means accepting and adapting to Nature’s constraints.
The most important constraint of all is that nobody can sail straight into the wind. You can reach a windward goal, but only by patiently making peace with the wind, not by trying to fight against it.
Find Yourself In Harmony with the Elements
The joy of sailing comes when you find yourself and your boat in harmony with the elements. Learning how to sail taught me that most of life’s challenges work that way.
Sadly, a very different worldview has dominated our industrial society in the modern era. Many of our leaders view Nature as an adversary to be tamed or defeated so that we can extract our planet’s resources as rapidly as possible.
A new report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) challenges that approach to development. It’s called Making Peace with Nature. Its authors describe it as “A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies.”
We’re Amid a Mass Extinction
Because our lives are so much shorter than the unimaginable pace of geological time, most of us don’t perceive the emergencies around us. We’re amid a mass extinction, the worst part of which has taken place over the past 50 years.
The past five mass extinctions have typically taken 10,000 years or longer to wreak this same level of devastation. Unlike any of those prior disasters, this sixth “Anthropocene” disaster is caused by just one species – us.
Refreshingly, Making Peace with Nature doesn’t dwell on these negative points. All sorts of reports, such as the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, have documented the issues.
Draws on the Sustainable Development Goals Framework
Instead, this latest report lays out a plan for how to address and even reverse our environmental challenges. It draws on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals framework to map out our strategy for tackling the present crisis.
The report frames the challenge by pointing out that the global economy is five times larger than fifty years ago. International trade has grown by a factor of ten over the same period.
Earth’s population has doubled, leaving more than a billion people behind in poverty and at least 700 million people starving. At the same time, we mindlessly spew our waste, with greenhouse gas emissions doubling along with rising levels of toxic chemical waste.
We’ve Tripled Our Extraction of Natural Resources
We’ve tripled our extraction of natural resources over just half a century. We’ve taken up three-quarters of the land and two-thirds of the oceans that make up our planet.
All these attempts to transform Nature are putting our own well-being at risk, not to mention that of Nature as a whole. However, the thrust of the report is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The authors call for a mental shift toward a different kind of transformation. We need to transform Humanity’s relationship with Nature.
Transform Humanity’s Relationship with Nature
Based on the report’s findings, over the next 50 years, we need to establish human development on sustainable economic and financial systems. This includes healthy, nutritious food, clean water and renewable energy.
Urban development has to shift its focus toward healthy lifestyles. City planners have to make the well-being of all residents in safe communities their only priority.
Humanity needs to work to reach the goal of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. At the same time, we need better practices to manage all forms of waste, eliminating toxic waste and pollution from our water, soil and air.
Recycling Rather than Extracting Resources
We should be recycling resources rather than extracting non-renewable resources from the Earth. Our species must conserve and protect our remaining wild spaces on land and sea instead of endlessly transforming them for industrial use.
Readers may think they’ve heard all of these ideas before or that the report only deals in platitudes. They’d be right if the authors didn’t go a great deal further.
The Making Peace with Nature report sets out a lengthy to-do list of specific, practical steps that Humanity needs to take to make the shift the authors advocate. The plan sets out key actions that various actors need to take to turn things around.
Lengthy To-Do List of Specific, Practical Steps
The actors they identify include governments, intergovernmental organizations, financial institutions, the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientific organizations, and the media. No, you’re not off the hook; the list includes plenty of actions for civil society and individuals – that means you.
A couple of the many items for people and families on the to-do list include, “Make climate-friendly everyday choices on travel and consumption that contribute to the net-zero carbon emissions objective,” and “Support and engage in local production and distribution systems for healthy food, safe water and clean energy.”
“Waging War on Nature”
In his forward to the report, UN Chief Antonio Guterres wrote, “Humanity is waging war on Nature. This is senseless and suicidal.” Yet, he concluded by saying that, “An inclusive world at peace with Nature can ensure that people enjoy better health and the full respect of their human rights so they can live with dignity on a healthy planet.”
UNEP’s Making Peace with Nature report makes it clear that the choice is ours.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
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